While the amendment to the PLPA has raised concerns about forest cover of the Aravalis being eroded further, it’s the misuse of the land consolidation law that has done irreversible damage to the hills, over several decades.
[t]here are scores of private individuals and entities who have, over the years, gained in a similar way from a process called ‘consolidation’. Like molecules rearranging themselves to form a new entity, pieces of disjointed land have morphed into numerous large land holdings all across the Aravali villages in south Haryana, primarily Gurugram and Faridabad, and passed into the hands of a few. This has been possible because of the legal ambiguity of Aravali laws, passage of ad-hoc rules, large-scale use of power of attorney and a general procedural mist that allows manipulation of the process.
Aided by an enabling system, people made hay. Most of the land that has passed into private ownership came from pools of land that a village had common ownership over. In the land records, this was known as ‘shamlat deh’ (land that belongs to the community), and therefore, could not be sold or carved into smaller plots. The ownership of this common land was with the village panchayat.
The floodgates to privatisation opened in the 1970s when the Haryana government transferred the ownership of ‘shamlat’ land to the ‘community’ from the panchayat. As a result, every villager with an agricultural holding got a piece of ‘shamlat’ land that was equivalent to the agricultural holding. The government did this under provisions of the East Punjab Holding Consolidation and Prevention of Fragmentation Act, 1948.
This law allows consolidation of land to increase agricultural productivity. However, in most villages, the land type of ‘shamlat deh’ was primarily ‘gair mumkin pahar’ (uncultivable hill), and hence, served no agricultural purpose. And even though villagers received a joint undivided share, they began looking for buyers for their individual shares.